The European Union is powerless to stop Britain starting to strike up new relationships around the world, top European law academics have said days before Britain’s trade talks with the United States are due to begin.
Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade Dr Liam Fox made the announcement that a British delegation would be meeting with their United States counterparts from the 24th of July on live television last month.
But left wing commentators including British news publications were quick to point out that European Union rules prohibit the United Kingdom from conducting trade talks with external nations while the country is still an EU member state.
Yet new comments by academics including Cambridge Professor of European Union Law Catherine Barnard suggest that not only could Britain forge ahead with negotiations, but Brussels would be in no position to do anything about it.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today Programme Saturday, Professor Barnard responded to separate comments by a fellow law academic, Professor David Collins of City University. In his remarks, Professor Collins said: “The actual fact is, there’s nothing in the European Treaties that do ban the negotiation of free trade agreements.
“I can tell you what is legal, negotiating and signing a trade agreement, as long as it doesn’t go into force before the day Brexit goes into effect, March 2019. It is in theory legal, there’s nothing in the EU treaties that prohibit that, despite what people say.”
While agreeing with Professor Collins that the “unique context” of Britain leaving the European Union left Britain a more free hand, Professor Barnard said Britain going out and seeking trade deals with other nations outside the EU was against the rules. Despite that, she said, the bloc would struggle to enforce them, that it would take “a long time to carry through”, and in any ca, e they may not want to in the first place.
Challenged by presenter John Humphries over whether Britain getting let “off the hook” for this breach would encourage other EU nations to do the same, Barnard replied, “they might”.